Behavior Modification and Google’s Pursuit of the Star Trek Computer

Star Trek Kirk Communicator

You can comment on this post’s Google Plus thread here.

I haven’t blogged in some time, but this has been a growing theme for me, and it seems worth posing here as a benchmark, as these are deep, cultural and technology shifts worth talking about, especially in terms of human expectations of knowledge, and the promise of the internet. These are mostly thoughts posted at length, with some modification, on a Google Plus share of Mark Traphegan’s excellent blog post on Google Plus’s new Reach Numbers. One of the most interesting things he talks about is User Behavior Modification.  Mark argues that Google must provide quality results otherwise people will stop using its product.

Google needs that content; helping the world to find information is Google’s stated mission. And users, to varying extent, need Google to help their content to be found or made visible.

So users have a high incentive to do whatever it takes to make their content more visible to other Google users. But Google has a counterbalancing incentive to filter that content, and try to maintain high quality levels. Why? Because if they don’t, people will stop using Google.

Over the years, Google has experimented with various ways of gently–and sometimes not so gently–pushing its users toward practices that help Google to more consistently deliver better content. This is what I call Google user behavior modification (UBM).

read the rest

But, there is an alternate solution for Google to providing “quality” results.

 

Changing Expectations
What interests me is the most potent user modification that I’m seeing, which is the modification of expectation itself. Instead of Google having to do the heavily computational lifting of providing high quality content to everyone (the Star Trek computer, which knows all things), it actually makes much more economic sense if they can change the expectation and satisfaction level of users. This way Google can robustly provide a kind of McDonalds of products in the cuisine of knowledge and Internet consumption. We just need people getting hungry for McDonalds search and social.

How Search Has Changed

We’ve already seen it – dramatically I think – in Google SERPs. It is very odd to me that almost nobody is talking about the significant shift in search results quality over the last two years. Previously people would search, get a hodgepodge of results and then refine their search, and repeat. Google saw this process of search refinement as a kind of “failure” of the product, losing users in the process, when in fact it was producing a large group of users who became really adept at Googing, figuring out how to use keyword combinations and other cheats to wormhole through results and get fantastic, knowledge-rich pages. There were the Googlers, and then there were the not-so-Googlers. But what Google really needed was the not-so-Googlers, because Google primarily is a ad-selling company (somewhere around 60 Billion dollars a year, I believe). What was a rich and varied strength of the search product which produced an autonomy of users had to be changed.

The “Improvement” of the Algorithm – Reading Your Mind

The answer of course was an improved algorithm. We need an algorithm that can not only filter out spammy results, more importantly it had to read your mind and figure out what you really mean. David Amberland writes enthusiastically about this, and it is much celebrated. But there is another vector of solution that Google as been pursuing aimed to make the distance that Google’s IA dreams have to travel. What if Google was able to answer your question before it is completely formed or focused, in a sense nipping the flower of it in the bud? What if it gave you the experience of an answer, and experience that was “good enough” to stop you from re-querying?

Shortening Your Questioning

This is where the auto-complete started successfully steering you away from more complex query entries. You might have a pretty complicated, but still somewhat unfocused idea of what you are are looking for when you start typing, but as you start typing a much more simplified version of your question pops into view. This is great for Google because they don’t have to crunch such varied and lengthy queries, straining their computational and software limits. If we can get people asking the same, fairly simplified queries, then our job is easier.

Providing Satisfying Answers

Once you get people asking simpler questions you have to keep them from requery by giving them a satisfying end. A part of this is being able to “read minds” in the celebrated Semantic Search way, but an even bigger part of this is in providing “official” looking, pleasingly represented answers. This is where the Knowledge Graph comes in. The purpose of the Knowledge Graph, aside from moving towards the One Screen mobile need, is to just end querying. It is a counterpart of the simplification of queries themselves.

Playing With the Form of Results

If I’m not mistaken: You can see an even more aggressive version of these behavior modifying strategies in the way that Google is providing very different results in quoted phrasing. There was a time not long ago when you could very effectively requery by grouping words together in a phrase, and forcing the engine to push deep into its repository of pages. Now, instead, Google produces page results that simply do not contain all the words in your phrase…they show that one is missing by crossing it out. They are saying: I know you think you want pages with that phrasing, but these pages are much more popular even though they don’t contain the complete phrase…maybe you were mistaken in your query. Or even more forcefully, in cases of 3 word phrases they simply refuse to do the search itself, and remove the quotations.

I don’t know about you but I have experienced a dramatic restriction in results framed by date of publication. This was a very powerful research tool, and was invaluable when Google started pushing fresher and fresher content forward. If you wanted to know about a subject prior to the coloring events of 2013 you could just search pre-date. This option has been significantly curtailed. It’s as of the library of holdings, the history of the Internet itself has shrunk from view. In time the expectation of the fruitfulness of such a search will wither.

The Celebration of the Algorithm – a New Captain Kirk

There is in the Google Conversation community a kind of celebration of the Google Algorithm, a kind of Sci-Fi love of the kinds of things that Google is pushing for in terms of capacity. I’m a big fan of Sci-Fi and I could be capativated by the Star Trek computer as much as the next guy, or gal. But we are – I believe – turning a blind eye to how much Google (and Facebook to a lesser degree) is cleverly moving the goal posts, in a very subtle way. It would be as if Captain Kirk grew into the habit of only asking the computer how many people lived on the Cairn homeworld, or what time his Hangout with Federation Command was scheduled for. This dimension of behavior modification is immense, and even profound, given the promise of what the Internet hoped to be, a vast library of human knowledge, an infinite sedimented record of facts, activity and thought. What made Google Google was that it was a tool that we could use to navigate a very large, incredible and sometimes stormy sea. Part of what Google has been doing though, is shrinking that sea, and also encouraging us to maybe sail much closer to our harbor where waters are much more manageable and pacific.

How Google Plus Also Modifies Our Behavior

So this long digression into Google’s main property and service has to have something to do with Google Plus, right? From my view Google faced many of the same problems on Google Plus that it did in Search, and it has intelligently worked to solve them in a similar way. Initially it created a remarkable environment of thought and discussion, drawing powerful minds that just were not satisfied with Facebook social, wanted more depth than Twitter offered, and more speed and intimacy than blogging did. There was something Eden-like in how varied Google Plus was two years ago. Okay, everything changes right? But let’s think about these changes.

Much as Google Search had power re-Googlers and non-reGooglers, and the majority of users were not using Google creatively, they had autonomous power users on Google Plus, but also many more people were just putting their toe in the water; they needed to pull more and more people, and more and more content into the platform. They had to simplify it. Google had to produce a much more satisfying experience of it to a new user, especially if they were going to cut into Facebook. The marvelous eco-diversity of initial Google Plus was just too complicated, too varied, too dependent on the pre-existing relationships that power users brought into the platform fully formed (for me this was from Twitter). Add in that mobile use (which itself is a very simplified content use context) was becoming a dominant influence in Social, and you have extreme demands that Google Plus change dramatically.

The Algorithm Solution Again

Aside from very aggressive auto recommendation strategies for circling (which, parenthetically, were also amplified by its biggest proselytizing users in their circle shares), what really had to change was its streams. Popular content organized around simplified wants had to be pushed forward, otherwise Google Plus would just be populated by Social Media Pros and nerdists repeating how wonderful it is to each other. People need to see something engaging quickly when they come to G+, and in parallel they need simplify their expectations. When in the past inquiring users may have been in search of conversations or new ideas, but now one’s eye should search for a clever photo, an inspiring quote, a quirky headline. For the engineers at Google, if we can get people looking for the right kind of content on Google Plus we can get really good at delivering it.

Google Plus Has Improved

Google Plus has improved in some ways. Now older posts with some interesting conversation might be found by someone who hasn’t been on the platform in a while, for instance. But I don’t know about others, largely the substantive content I looked forward to in the past is simply buried in an avalanche of popular items and feeds. And even posters themselves have been slowly curved towards a different kind of content and expression. More than this, and with disappointment, the best Google Plus minds have focused their eye on the praises of the algorithm itself, instead of as members of the community and environment equally concerning themselves with the culture of Google Plus, what Google is creating by algorithm, through behavior modification of even its brightest members.

 

These are tectonic shifts in the very form of knowledge as it interfaces with technology, as important as changes in the form of the book.

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Immunity and the ROI of impression chasing – social media small group thinking

How Social Media Might be “done” Differently

There have been growing string of posts and conversations in the last week. To catch people up and give context: here was my post on Sunday attempting to open up a conversation about how social media marketing talks about social media communities – in terms of language, vocabulary, concept – exploring how we might conduct social media planning in a new way a different kind of Social Media – finding a language. If you haven’t read it it is more about the comments which are a rich realization that there is a building consensus that this is a topic that deserves attention. Then there was Ric Dragon’s The Power of Small Groups in Online Marketing which raised the same question again, in the context of impression thinking – something that marks the advertising culture from which many of social media marketing concepts have come. And lastly there was my post largely devoted to a single comment from my first post by @Karen_sharp the stake holders of Social Media – into the web of relations. There the question grew more abstract, but perhaps also more concrete, as we tried to think about the real processes of speaking from “within”  social media that make it a potentially powerful tool.

The selection below is the bend in my thoughts that reflects more how Ric Dragon was thinking about things. They are from the Afterward of Malcolm Gladwell‘s classic The Tipping Point. I post at length here for those who have not read it, or haven’t read it in a long while. My wife who has been hearing me talk about all the exciting things we might be able to do over at Tonner Doll, who just read the book, insisted that I look at the passage and in fact read it aloud while we were driving to the store today, giving birth to this post.

The Immunity of ROI Impression Thinking

One cannot help but think about how right Gladwell is on email (though written in 2002). Email may have gone through something of a remaking since then – post Facebook, Private Messaging and Twitter developments – but the same challenge of immunity faces email marketers. A medium develops an insensitivity to messaging, such that only mass mailings or highly specialized targeting and sensitively crafted messaging succeed in reaching an interested party. As Gladwell points out, the ease of the connection, its expense, tends to dull the efficacy of tries.

In the new media basic metrics such as “followers” or “fans” and “RTs” I believe can become deeply misread when the medium itself is heading towards immunity insensitivity. The very “reach” without expense is the thing that actually should be telling us that these numbers are quickly becoming devalued at a rapid rate, especially within hyper-evolving platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Yes there are metric attempts to revalue basic numbers, to in an arms-race kind of way find the “social” part buried deep within quantities – Klout being an obvious example – but the truth is that with the entire insensitivity process the whole social media world is quickly becoming immunized. Case in point and a small divergence, we in #usguys just had what we call a #flashchat on WordPress. A #flashchat is a pseudo-impromptu wranglingly together of folks on Twitter about a topic for discussion. Afterwards we found out that this little chat reached over 1,000,000 “people” (so to speak). I’m sure not that the case at all because this is just a big impression stack. But I could not help but think in hearing this: these numbers are near meaningless. They have meaning (narrow use), but the effect of them us is way out of proportion. We had a very successful chat, fully of energy, information, sharing, but then the 1,000,000 number completely shaded the sense of the true impact of the event, even in my mind. It moved the gaze. Over all, stats are getting the people who should know better drunk.

What occurs to me is that even though social media platforms are becoming saturated. Even though RTs are now being automated into Triberr pods of mutual dissemination without “personal” recommendation. Even though the “social” part of real conversation is starting to be gamed into imitation by pros, the blog world over populated with shallow re-tread advice repacked into catchy blog titles over and over and over – this very building up of an immunity is the thing that is giving social media even more emphasis on real conversation. As “thinking” and “talking” are being harvested by bright ROI-hungry minds often far too enamored with Impression adoration, finding ways of bulk “talking” and bulk “curating”, when actual conversations are found, the more and more rare of real thinking and discussion, the face-to-face like intimacy of sharing and personal investment, this becomes the gold of social media, rising by the ounce.

Social Media Message Inflation

This is what the New Age Impressionists are missing. As you seek to engineer a systematic imitation of social, you are losing all your skills of having or discovering in a market real social production. Counting RTs and Impressions is like counting Papiermarks. The very ease of their production and reproduction creates “message inflation”. And your substantive conversations – either the ones you are having, or looking for – the real gold of social media networks, are being lost in the currency.

Beneath the Klout hikes and the so-called “reach” numbers, there is only one thing of value: What conversations are you having? What conversations are you finding? What conversations can you have? (okay, three modes of the same thing.) And if you are only having conversations with the same limited number of people, you have simply built a castle in which to could can count the currency you have printed amongst yourselves.

vectors of a gift – gift economy

I’m a pretty visual person, so I’m putting this up as a place holder for future thought. Yesterday I sketched out for myself my four fundamental aspects of a Gift. What we mean by gift is this: an inexactly repayable exchange whose very unending obligation perpetuates the relationship in a kind of positive debt which can pass back and forth between persons. This in a hidden way can be said to underwrite more exact market economy exchanges.

The idea diagrammed above is that if we isolate these (or some other) constitutive vectors we might be able to analyze gift-giving scenarios, and seek to strengthen their effectiveness and bonds when we build them for commerce. Whether they be crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, freemium, open-innovation, organized charity donations, blogging behaviors, social medium spaces, Digital Tribe building (such as currently being done with #usguys hashtag), product giveaways, or any of the other social marketing-like issues, we are looking for constant dimensions to keep our eye on.

These four juxtaposed terms are a placeholder. It works as a promise for me to return and explain what I mean by these terms. But also it is a chance for anyone who has been involved in the conversation on Gift Economy to think about the diagram, and come up with what it might mean to them. Right now it will remain a pictographic theory. Provisional, of course, but perhaps it gives a sense of the space I am thinking in.

Interested in your impressions. The hope is to think about Gift Economies in every way, from story telling, to anthropology, to abstract theorizing, but end up with real world observations and real world differences that can be made, in particular to the new Social Media. How to make Gift Giving and customer/user contribution more central and powerful.

nesting and social media flight

Real Time Sitting With an Eagle (click to see)

I have to confess that I am absolutely fascinated with the 24/7 eagle nest cam put up by the Raptor Resource Project in Decorah Iowa. It garnered a great deal of attention recently when the camera placed in the eagle’s nest captured the hatching of a valued egg. So much traffic it crashed the feed, I believe. But it is more than this. It is a window into the real powers of social media in a number of ways, and I’d like to use it to bring out these often overlooked aspects of what makes social media go.

The first thing to note is how it bends time and space instantly, as soon as you click on the feed (minus the now-present ad). You are transported to an eagle’s errie, where even in the middle of the night you can hear the wind blowing, and see her feathers peel back from the gusts. I watched last night, and the transportive effects were strong. It was perhaps the most “ecological” or “conservationist” experience I’ve had through media, or perhaps even in the more or less Real world. The noble animal is right there with you. Her catch will arrive in the nest. Her feeding. Her fussing with the young. And all the interminable minutes that Herzog would love are there, unedited.

This is what I want to focus on. Social media is NOT about sharing the trivial. It is about recognizing that there is no trivial. Each and every life experience/moment has the potential of being an anchor-point for sympathetic identification. What social media does is pull life out from the peaks, and display it as narrative – a narrative in which the small can surprise as much as the large can. Yes, the feed crashes when the chick is being born, but really it is the thread of moments that are captured that makes this eagle cam tranporative.

Let me move a little bit deeper into this. Social media allows an affective transfer. That is, for a moment, a glimpse, I am able to FEEL what you or it is feeling. My body approximates this state. For that moment there is a bond, and an assumption of sameness. This is actually – I would argue in a different context – the basis of all ethical behavior, and even the sense-making we make of the world, but in social media it is the core substance of what is going on. It is all happening in an “information” environment, but social media is about leaving your affective fingerprints on every piece of information exchanged. The information has to be smudged, dirtied by our transfer, so people can FEEL where it is coming from. Every Tweet, every Facebook posting, every YouTube clip has the lived buried in it.

This is where the eagle cam is so remarkable. It communicates so many of the conceptual conservation ideas that the unintentional cruelty of the zoo is more crudely designed to bring about. Animals are said to be ambassadors for their species in zoos, and so often endure an unhappy jail just so we can experience them first hand and develop not only a knowledge, but an affinity for their kinds..enough of an affinity for us to be moved to protect them. In this case, this is accomplished with two tiny remote cameras, and far more intimately. The transposition of time and space is incredibly folded, and made dense. We are mapped, affectively, right there upon the flapping, wind-blown feathers of a she eagle. And we care. A multi-million dollar zoo edifice is eclipsed.

The Lessons for Business

So what does this have to say about business and social media. The eagle cam represents the acme of this affective representation. It is the economical, brief, elegantly simple, spectacular way in which people can affectively identify across species lines with something “out there”, as well as be fully absorbed by the concepts that surround the transfer. What business has to realize is that connecting to customers and users in social media environments has always to do with this affective end. We want people to feel our Real. To combine with it, to see it as Same. And this is done by projective narrative. The information we exchange always has to be colored by our values, and our experiences. Each node of social media communication is a place for others to create an affinity point. And when exchanging with others, there are two nodes for identification: you and your interlocutor (for a watching 3rd).

So should every business have a 24/7 web cam stream? Well, not really. But WHAT a web cam stream accomplishes forms one of the limits and aims of social media broadcast and conversation. It is the transportation of – not the effacement of – what is human in us, or perhaps even beneath that. It allows customers to FEEL what is like to be in trusted relationship to your company or business. As someone brought up in today’s #usguyschat, it is more about reef building, than going viral. And establishing points of affective affinity is essential to reefs of safe commerce.

The enormous nest, over five feet wide, is perched high atop a cottonwood tree near the Decorah Fish Hatchery. The nest is 80 feet up, making the installation of camera gear all the more impressive. In the background of the shot, viewers can see cars and trucks passing on a road far below.

Two cameras are attached to the tree’s limbs a few feet above the nest, equipped with infrared nightvision and the ability to pan and zoom to capture every detail, including the bloody food that the parents bring back to the nest. story

brands as persons – the new facebook

Today’s post is a development out of a brief, light Twitter exchange over the new fan Facebook profile. I was drawn originally to social media strategist Carri Bugbee‘s perhaps humorous thought that Facebook had intentionally reduced the impact of brands on Facebook fan pages in order to force them to buy more ads to help traffic:

I felt that this was a wonderful, irony-flavored Tweet, and given some of Facebook’s recent problems with appearances of self-serving greed it had first-blush elements of traction. I think we all have our doubts about Facebook and I’ll go as far as most when imagining the nefarious but clever strategies of companies. The big problem is that Facebook’s new changes to the fan profile page have the potential to be such a game-changing boon to business I would say that this criticism really is diametrically opposed to the truth. Facebook has not reduced the number of ways that a business can reach its audience with messaging, it has multiplied them to almost a radical degree. Facebook has turned brands and companies into functional “persons”.

As I understood it, Carri’s major resistance to the changes has been the loss of the Facebook tabs. And to this I have great sympathy. Because the past page was so rigid, and the company’s role so boxed, tabs were one of the few ways that companies could creatively engage users with navigation and messaging. But the loss of tabs is really the loss of an old way of Facebooking for companies I contend. First of all, custom landing pages are still perhaps the most important way of controlling company messaging on Facebook. And for Real Estate companies for instance, very strong interactive apps on the landing page (through a company like Roost) can make up a great deal for the loss of the central visual of tabs. It would have been nice if we hadn’t spent so much time designing our pages with the tabs essentially in mind, and if Facebook had given us a much better heads up, but the changes have been impressive and generous.

First a Bit About the Pics

The most obvious thing that replaces the tabs is the top “film strip” of 5 pictures. I’ve written previously how this film strip image in the personal profile suddenly joins the FB picture ads on the right now to an entire frame of images, linking ads to all the visual information in a way that should lead to higher CTRs. Also, should be noted that by making the business oriented fan page in the same format as the personal page, the line between business and persons on Facebook is by design further blurred. That is a main goal of the Facebook changes. Additionally though Facebook has now given companies, in a swap for tabs, creative control over the prime real estate of the top of the page, from left margin to center. If companies are smart about the photos they present – if they don’t just want to use it to humanize themselves in casual shots like a personal FB page, this has real opportunity. It has been said that some companies are not photo-oriented companies, but this should be a simply fantastic space to work with. The image below shows what has been done with the 5 pictures. As a non-design man creativity to this extreme is not something I’ve ventured towards – and I am unsure how the auto mix is overcome, perhaps its is not – but one thing is clear a lot can be done with this space. Even just selecting images that convey your brand in a cycle can bring strong messaging that did not exist before:

image via mashable the techcrunch how to

Aside from this unusual new top space, the biggest changes to brand fan pages run quite a bit deeper. In fact so deep that the entire game of social marketing on Facebook has changed for businesses. Contrary to the intuition that brands have become more limited, it was in the previous state that they had be chained down, islanded as passive landing spaces that one had to lure people to through non-Facebook (or FB PPC) means. Suddenly now brands and companies have been given the power of “persons”. They can actively roam the social space of Facebook, and engage targeted users with great flexibility. As I’ll talk about they can build b2b relationships. They can brand associate and value themselves in countless ways previously barred.

Business, Brand and Person

I’m going to use as an illustrative example of the new fan Facebook pages my wife’s own fan Facebook page. My wife’s page is just a modest fan page. She is an amateur Muay Thai fighter and her YouTube page had gotten enough communications to suggest a social space would be best for all the interactions. It’s a niche page, but it represents the way in which Facebook is attempting to blur the line between business and person – brands and interests – in their profile change move. People make a mistake if they believe that it is only the big brand fan pages that are in play in the new model. Not at all. Fan pages are going to proliferate (that is what is behind the new Facebook identity toggle, the promotion of persons being multiple admins). They are not only going to represented big companies; more and more they are going to represent segmentations of personal lives, interests and activities. And it is in this context that the new powers of a business to act like a person (with interests) has to be appreciated. I’m going to use my wife’s small page to illustrate how brands and companies can now project their message, form valuable associative connections, increase impressions and much more. The main change that social marketing has brought to business is that brands have had to work harder to become personal, and because Facebook may be the most personal of social media spaces, being able to act as persons on Facebook is an essential new tool in this.

A main advantage of the new b2b relationships – let’s say b2b is brand to brand instead of business to business with the added understanding that even people now are operating as brands too –  is that when a fan page likes another fan page that page can appear in the left column sidebar as a form of free advertisement. Further, it operates as something of an endorsement. The fan page has control over which liked pages appear there, if they wish to chose to exercise it, but the biggest deal is that your business page will receive free impressions if you get another fan page to like it.

In the above example you can see that Alias Fight Wear gets prime placement pretty far up on her left margin. At least half of Sylvie’s followers are a choice demographic for Alias, and in fact Sylvie has a relationship with Alias as she is sponsored by them, and even writes for them. This goes possible Facebook relationship between company and endorser goes all the way up the commercial ladder. Fan pages can be braided to reflect explicit associations. But just above the Alias page is Master Toddy’s Muay Thai. This is company that Sylvie has no affiliation with at all, though in the realm of female Muay Thai it is an important brand name. It’s presence communicates something about Sylvie’s page and interest. Both of these are free, prime placements for both small companies in an audience that is receptive to their business. Neither placement has been pursued.

Now, it may be objected that Sylvie’s fan page is really just a person, why would a “real” brand like another real brand, and give free advertising. There are lots of reasons for this. One may be that larger, more prominent brands become valuable to other companies in the association because of the image they represent. Either the large brand confers a beneficial association of strength to the smaller company, or – and here is something missed in the move – it gives smaller companies the opportunity to act like persons. Let’s say a plumbing company likes the Starbucks fan page. Immediately there is an affinity established with other Starbucks lovers. The appearance of the Starbucks fan page in the sidebar can instantly humanize the plumbing company. They are coffee drinkers like us! Perhaps there are even associations towards hard work or late hours that come with the Starbucks fan page placement. Or think about the cloud of values that surrounds Starbucks followers:

image via the era of interest

The point of social media is to project a transparency towards the human beings within a company, and this can be accomplished through brand association. If an accountant business page likes the WSJ this is something that mutually serves both entities. In fact this hand-washing-hand can be the source of a substantial interweave of company to company connections, one that simply has not existed before this new Facebook page change. It’s one thing to quote a NY Times article on your business Facebook page, another thing to like the NY Times, something your followers might also do.

Carri brought up an excellent and serious point in our brief discussion. Companies have to be very careful who they endorse and travel with. Connection cuts two ways. A wrong turn and you get dragged down a public image alleyway you don’t want to go down. I can certainly see this to be the case with large corporations. The pages they like have to be select because they are making endorsements of a kind. All the same, encouraging other pages to like your page provides roots for your brand in very focused social spaces, associations that are as risky as having individual persons like your page. For companies smaller than the elite, fan page liking as a company is the opportunity to present yourself as a person in a personal space. A golden social media combination. A mix of business associations reflecting real partnerships, and the kind of likes that a person would make, go a long way to portraying what the business yet still emotive scope of the company is.

Becoming Biz Social on Facebook

This directs us to another feature of the new Facebook. When you have liked a fan page you can then post on that page, as a brand. Let me repeat that with more detail. You can present yourself to the focused audience of another page and if you do it with sympathy to that environment you can confer upon yourself the values of that page. Of course this should be done sensitively, but brand to page posting is a powerful capacity that has to be weighed. Consider below. A company with investment toward images of women’s health might like a Breast Cancer Awareness page, and post something in support on their project. If anything I want to communicate here, Facebook pages are not just big-boy brands duking it out for attention, where everyone is your enemy/competitor with the big risk of being associated with the wrong partner. They are a wide array of brands, interests and persons of increasing variety, and there is much to invest in in ways that may be far more effective than any Facebook ad would bring. A business can entered into the actual social conversation in a way that is analogous to the flexibility of conversation that Twitter affords. There are some increased risks, but in fact there are even bigger chances for gain, as long as they are strategized out.

An additional benefit to the direct association achieved through a wall post, if you wall-post on a liked page your post will then appear in the News Feed of all the followers of your own page (below). (It will also be seen in “recent activity” on your wall. ) It’s pretty significant if you are a business that tends to only broadcasts news about yourself, the kind of thing that only the most hardened followers would find interesting. Here, instead of putting a “deal” or a new blog post title into followers New Feeds, you can put evidence of an interaction on a topic obliquely connected to your brand. This lateral wall-post gives readers something to grasp onto other than the broadcast of your own wonderfulness, very much in the same way that a Twitter interaction might draw a user into a topic or a partner.

The idea of entering the conversation as a brand – a whole new para-advertising social space – involves actually entering the conversation. That is, as a fan page you can make a comment on a comment thread of a page you have liked. In the example below, not only has your brand liked the Starbucks page, perhaps posted on the Starbucks wall (and thus on your followers feed)  it now has made a comment on the post that is floated to the top of the everyone mode of the Starbucks wall. In everyone mode the first listing isn’t even a post by Starbucks, but is a post that is weighted by Facebook as the most interactive.  Commenting where others comment is a way of presenting the most social side of your brand. It not only portrays you as conversational, it also puts you in the context of users who have already commented. As with Twitter there are strong social etiquette restrictions on the mode of how you comment. But it is a rich source for brand exportation and image shaping.

There are additional sources of Facebook interaction that are possible now. How about liking a community activity page and posting comments there if you are a company that is connected to that region or the nature of those events? And if you are a Hudson Valley business, why would you not support those who are looking to further the community itself, even if you are not immediately invested in those events? There is much to be had here. Perhaps through interaction you can find yourself sponsoring a future event. Building real ties with those who already have a stake in your area can be beneficial for both, the business and the user.

And lastly, business names, brand associations, cause pages, area pages do not exhaust what a Facebook page can be. There are interest pages that do nothing more than provide anchors to interests (with a large number of followers). While the interaction here is minimal, it does allow a business to associate itself with broad interests that further personalize its presence, giving a potential user/follower of your page a point of identification: me too. Below is the Muay Thai interest page, but there are thousands of interest pages to like now.

The key is to build a profile of activities (likes, comments, posts) that illustrate the values and relationships that the brand expresses, just as a person would. While there are restrictions on businesses to just whom it is best to associate with, this new way of business to present themselves is unparalleled in the history of advertising (not to overstate it). We have to think differently. Social Media is not broadcast. As the line between brand and person continues to blur, as the variety of fan pages expands, the actions of a company in this environment necessarily will become more humanizing,  more value-rich. What Facebook has done is empower businesses to at least consider the ways that they can both export their brand, but also associate their brand in a much more identifiable way, far beyond the mere advertising sphere.

This is of course not yet to mention the urgently needed notification feature in the new page which enables real time admin interaction with posters,  or the multiplicity of poster ID toggles between pages which allows a much more fluid human commitment to administrating fan pages, as well as an additional ability to comment on your own page, as a person. These are immense improvements to the business side of Facebook that should change the way that fan pages are handled and experienced.

I really want to thank Carrie Bugbee for the impetus for writing this piece. It comes out of only a brief discussion we had, but it touched off a real enthusiasm for what Facebook is doing in this recent change.

the real story of influence, not the most connected…

image via Off The Grid PR

Lisa Thorell’s Off The Grid has an excellent, thought provoking post on the assumption that the numerically most connected in a social medium are necessarily the most influential, that is, whether they are the actors who do dictate wide sweeps of behavior across a populace. Her style of writing is refreshingly clear and explicit, and the ideas she trades in are creative in the very best sense in that they challenge industry assumptions, focus on real world results, and are ever looking for new trends in understanding. In this post she attempts to take apart the easier handles on influence like Klout score.

The real problem I have with single-number influence metrics is that, while useful as online Q-scores for celebrity marketing deals, these numbers turn off our brains on thinking about influence. And that’s dangerous for marketers leading an influence strategy toward ROI for clients.  Our inherent human bias to seek shortcuts and easy solutions may well be holding us back from asking deeper questions. Far too often clients ask “How do we find our influencers?” when, as Christakis has pointed out, we might more pertently ask, “Who are our influencees?”

It turns out this viewpoint is a much less-travelled existing road in influence research, one which posits that it’s “the influencees” or “the susceptibles” that we ought to be focusing on. One seminal 2006 study titled Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation used mathematical modelling to examine the dynamics of how influence could disseminate. A key finding of the paper is:

Large-scale changes in public opinion are not driven by highly influential people who influence everyone else but rather by easily influenced people influencing other easily influenced people.

Who are these highly influenced people? Interestingly, a 2009 Harvard study, Do Friends Influence Purchases in a Social Network? found that it was the moderately connected people, not the highly connected, that were the most likely likely to be influenced by friend’s purchases.

slide from Paul Adams’ The Real Social Network While we’re here, if you’re not one of the 500,000 people who have already viewed it, Google researcher, Paul Adam’s presentation on “The Real Life Social Network” makes some great points on how we might focus on smaller group structures within our larger social sphere to get better insight on influence.)

In the end, the secret to understanding the the still nebulous concept of influence, the recommendations and endorsements that really drive our actions, may lie in understanding the bonds within smaller networked groups of “susceptibles”. (Obviously, this is nothing new to the influence researchers. However, marketing folks throwing large dollars for client companies with celebrity tweets ought to be reviewing the details of their strategy.)

Just maybe, fueled by our addiction to the ease of one-number-influence scores, we’re attacking this problem upside down. Inconceivable as it may seem to us now — maybe it’s not the activity within the low-to-medium Klout scorers, so-called “low influencers”, but the activity of the high Klout scorers that is specious and distracting.

via Online Social Influence: When Smaller Numbers are Better

The Appeal of Ratings

These are my thoughts on this diversion of our gaze from the big headliner influences – nodes that have the most connective nodes. The first involves the reason why these palm-size numbers persist. I’ve made this point repeatedly in other forms so it seems to be a theme of mine, but in this incarnation it goes like this. A hidden reason why “objective” ratings (that is, simple rating numbers that can be pointed to and watched by others) are popular is not only because we are mentally lazy. Yes, we are mentally lazy, but there are systemic reasons why as well, and these are perhaps even more important than our laziness. This reason is the game of justification. As experts in one area are asked to make strategy decisions in a relatively unstable (unpredictable) environment, they have to be able to readily point to some easily translatable factor that experts in some other area can understand and respect. It is the very interdisciplinary nature of business that promotes the simplicity of criteria, and because there is always some level of unpredictability in marketing an industry itself will start sliding towards certain criteria, entrenching it. Soon deviation from the industry reference requires more justification than is possible, and you end up with something like the Nielsen rating. Of course ROI is the ultimate criteria (is it?), but ROI expectation standards become set by the use of industry interdisciplinary criteria. It can becomes self-referential.

That is one of the more productive things about Lisa’s post, for social media is still looking for its common criteria. Klout heavies and other numerically respected industry personages are not entrenched. In a certain way social media marketing is still looking for its widely accepted inter-disciplinary criteria. And as she reasons, the answer is not simple because the question is complex. This leads to my second thought. I enjoy the aspect of influence she attempts to draw out. It’s not the most connected, its the most influenced that matters. It is not brought out in the post, but the provisional emphasis suggested actually points in a very obvious direction.

  • Not the most numerical connected, but rather the most numerical connected to those who are most influence-able, who are in turn connected to the same.

If these “most influence-able” types are indeed only moderately connected as Lisa suggests, then it is a question of how and where to find the nodes that most efficiently tap into the field of their connections. The easy superstar model of influence which we draw from broadcast media like film or television, would be misplaced. (You see something of this in how moms and niche bloggers are becoming important marketing nodes.)

Chaoplexic Organization, a lesson from Al Qaeda

I want to suggest a different way of looking at these fields of most influence-able nodes, one that comes from some study of the dispersed nature of Al Qaeda organization. Bear with me a moment. What interests military strategists about the nature of Al Qaeda is the way that it is able to stay organized without remaining in constant hierarchical communication. We would like the whole thing to be about it’s charismatic leader bin Laden and henchmen who are issuing directives, but it really draws its strength and resilience from something else, a helpful though perhaps overly jargoned for our purpose description:

The nebulous and dispersed nature of these organizations has invited their analysis in terms of decentered networks and complex adaptive systems. Thus al-Qaeda is seen as a decentralized and polymorphous network “with recursive operational and financial interrelationships dispersed geographically across numerous associated terrorist organizations that adapt, couple and aggregate in pursuit of common interests” [citing “Observing Al Qaeda Through the Lens of Complexity Theory: Recommendations for the National Strategy to Defeat Terrorism,” Beech]. For Marion and Uhl-Bien, interactive non-linear bottom-up dynamics are behind the self-organization of al-Qaeda in which bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership are an emergent phenomena: “leaders do not create the system but rather are created by it, through a process of aggregation and emergence” [citing “Complexity Theory and Al-Qaeda: Examining Complex Leadership,” Marion and Uhl-Bien].While a diffuse movement of Islamic radicalism coalesced to create terrorist networks from which the leadership could spring, the latter has also assisted the continued development of a decentralized movement by maintaining and fostering “a moderately coupled network, but one possessing internal structures that were loosely and tightly organized as appropriate.”

The Scientific Way of Warfare by Antoine Bousquet

From Moms to Bombs and Back

Let us make the parallel thought, and extend it. The analogy between moms that buy Volvos Islamic terror groups is not a pure one. But the figure  of loosely coupled groups, modeled on Chaoplexic organization susceptible to influence and identifiable across cultural difference is an important one. In terms of social media perhaps it is best to see the most noded social media names in any field as only emergent to that field, and not as directors of it. Generally the degree of control or influence of social media types is also far more diluted than any resistance leadership, perhaps relegated to industry others who would like to be more like them (numerically qualified as an influencer) and thus imitative. This would be qualified by the factor that Lisa Thurell suggests, the sensitivity to influence of those to whom one is connected. Instead Klout names at best may express the field, and not so much guide it. Instead with a fraction’d though still cohesively acting set of users, it is likely that the way into their realm is through the identification of the broad themes that bind them laterally. The Starbucks wordcloud is an interesting example (bottom). It would seem that it is in the cross-section of these swathes of interest and identifications, and moderately connected nodes within those fields that the sweet spot of messaging would be found. Its not in the bin Ladens of the social media world, its in the tribal chieftains, so to speak. Where group behavior is islanded and perhaps chaoplexic (perturb-able, and not guide-able), it is within the field of ideological of identifications, where sensitivity to influence is at its highest and most connected that message most carries its wave.

image via the era of the interest

social media is like buying beers: the gift economy in social media

The myth is Real: why it’s not cage fighting, its a conversation

My thoughts coming out of a conversation with Geoff Livingston in the comments of his call for social media business aggression ( Kick Your Competitor’s Ass ) have been really about how user expectations in social media – whether or not they are a myth or not – are REAL in their effect and so condition or limit what is productive in those environments. One way to put that is “the myth of the social media conversation is Real”. The touchy-feely of social media interactions is the language and value system that makes it all go, and even if your are looking to dominate your competitor, you have to at the very least strategically position yourself as such among those values. I say this as a husband to an amateur Muay Thai fighter with no aversion to the throwdown. And this goes all the way up to the heavy hitters like Facebook and Google who also have to struggle with the value systems and expectations that establish & promote their media.

The second half of my thoughts of here came out of reading Liz Strauss’s Influence: What Achieves the Results You Need? where she reflects back upon a time when her son was 5 years old. She uses a story of her son to illustrate six fundamental ways of interacting with others to get favorable results, most of them ways that surpass the roadblocks of antagonism and confrontation. Liz’s post make me think of gift giving, and the ways in which gift giving (as an attitude and an act) underwrites many of the more significant social forms in our culture, some of which may seem to be antithetical to it. So here also I want to expand a bit on the thoughts I first gave at Liz’s in comments.

Social Media and the Gift Economy

What stands out as I consider both Geoff Livingston’s Kick the Ass of your Competitor and Liz Strauss’s Find a Way to Persuade, Convince and Convert is that Social Media largely operates in a way that is distinctly different than the economies that are attempting to plug themselves systematically into it. This is not a judgment of either, only that differences need to be acknowledged so that cross-cultural, cross-discourse interactions become the most effective and not littered with endless mis-communications & failed expectations. When in one culture or discourse – discourse is just a shorthand for a way of talking about, valuing and doing things – you have to be aware when you are passing into another, when the rules and aims of the game change. To shift metaphors slightly, like a land mammal that doesn’t swim well you better know that you are stepping into waist high water. And if you can evolve to become amphibious, it might be worth while to do so when water becomes a fundamental part of your environment. This is where I suggest understanding Gift Economies can help.

Anthropologically speaking, Gift Economies are very specific things. The wikipedia entry gives us perhaps the best quick reference:

In the social sciences, a gift economy (or gift culture) is a society where valuable goods and services are regularly given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards (i.e. no formal quid pro quo exists). Ideally, simultaneous or recurring giving serves to circulate and redistribute valuables within the community. The organization of a gift economy stands in contrast to a barter economy or a market economy. Informal custom governs exchanges, rather than an explicit exchange of goods or services for money or some other commodity.

One can see pretty quickly that Social Media operates primarily as a gift economy, or is a gift economy skewed environment. The exchanges that occur on Facebook or Twitter or blogs have no explicit rules or measures for equivalence, and even when business forays deep into these territories they have to respect the gift economy Law of the Land. Gift giving customs of particular cultures has been heavily studied by anthropology and sociologists, and it is not for here to present a Social Media ethnography (every micro environment has their customs). In fact to attempt such would run up against the fact that social media is a highly evolving realm of exchange expectations that once you’ve got the rules of thumb down you just have to experiment in (I have in mind how recently Tweetdeck’s tweet lengthening advantages seem to have run up against some unwritten Twitter customs, one of which is to be as brief as possible: a user/tech/custom tension). Rather, I want just present some essential aspects about gift giving economies that may shed light upon Social Media itself, and perhaps how it relates to business strategy and practices.

Beer Buying and Gifting: “I’ve got the next round”

You don’t have to go to Papua New Guinea or Sierra Tarahumara of North Western Mexico to encounter rare instances of Gift Economies. No, you can just go to your local bar. It’s pretty amazing when something exotic becomes so mundane and right there in your face. Buying beers for friends is a prime example of gift economy and how it is different than market economies. In beer buying there is a very important unspoken feature and that is you never want it to be exactly EVEN. It is NOT the case that you want to add up all the money your friend has spent buying you beers, calculate that total and then match it. In fact, if you ever did such a thing it would actually signal the end of the beer buying relationship. We are even now, now what? Even though there is a sense of matching, you never want to be matched exactly, the deficit and surplus between you is the thing that binds you and keeps you interacting and exchanging. The = is a hollow point never to be achieved. It is quite unlike the: “What is the price for this…here it is…thank you good-bye” (gee, I got a good deal in that exchange). The aim is not “winning” through exactitude, its perpetuation. I take this example of Beer Buying from Anthropologist David Graeber’s Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams . David is an new-version Anarchist, but don’t let that put you off. His insightful anthropological observations on Gift Economies have for me been paramount for understanding Social Media itself, its powers and practice expectations, and as I contend, for deciphering the potential confusions that arise when market economy subcultures (primarily corporate culture and its imitators) attempt to take advantage of Social Media forms.

So where does Gift meet pure Profit?

To return to the general question of corporate competitor ass-kicking, or the more general approaches of conviction and persuasion, the reason why ass-kicking or even persuasion are not primarily at home in social media is that social media is like buying rounds, it’s about giving things of value away under the proviso that the things you are giving away are actually of less value than the relationship itself that is generated and perpetuated by the giving. That is why there is such amazing knowledge to found for free  (hard to find through all the other free advice tossed out there). That is why question answering sites like Quora or Trulia (for Real Estate) have a chance to thrive, because the value is the value behind the exchange. Information, knowledge, experiences become a commodity of trust, not a commodity to be bid on. In social media we don’t ever want to pay the exact price, evening the = sign.

This does not mean that the Gift Economy of social media and the Market Economy of business are incompatible, not in the least. In fact many if not most of our business exchanges are grounded in Gift-based relationships whose “gift” nature we simply are unconscious of and just assume. Beer buying practices (from customer to customer or bartender to customer) actually root and drive Beer selling practices. You just have to know when you are doing one and not the other. If you develop a keen eye for the gift-giving environment, and think about all the things that gift-giving in those environments signal – 1) a surplus others want to attach themselves to, 2) a magnanimous respect for the relationship beyond all else, 3) a debt structure that is “positive” – then one can translate the business intents that come from a competition market culture. Competition and “winning” in Gift Economies is actually (some argue) a competition of who can give the most, and achieve the most respect.

In the wider sense, it deserves to be noted that this is not simply a case of two different ways of doing business that are cut off from each other. They will, and are, affecting each other. Corporate culture in America and Europe which is well-founded on Individualized market competition indeed is strongly cross-pollinating it’s values into Social Media culture, that much is evident. Big companies struggle against Social Media gift values as they seek to monetize traffic and uses, and one of the ways that business can do this is by promoting its values in the new environments. The Social Media professionals who proselytize the medium, and make their living on its health, are perfect hybrid amphibians between the two. But the effect goes the other way. As real persons in real companies are forced to becomes more “social”, and represent themselves and their companies within gift economies, the gift economy values that frame that interaction also have started to change corporate culture itself. Its not just the feel good myths of companies like Apple, Facebook or Google, its the genuine “conversations” and opportunities that become engaged in social media environments. The powers of those living customs, habits and myths.


There is also another aspect of gift giving that I find interesting. Anthropologist David Graeber notes that Gift economies ( “primitive” economies different than monetary economies) are those that produce ties that bind, lasting relationships that assume their own perpetuation. The equivalent exchange of x for y at fair market price can actually act as the sign of the “end” of the relationship, rather than its foundation, it puts a defined limit on what can or will be exchanged. The “gift” opens up what is possible through its very asymmetry. Even though we are definitely a monetary culture, there are also very strong “gift economy” relationships within it, rooting it, and to a strong degree these are expressed in Social Media.Sorry for the long comment but you got me thinking.